Starfire – A Review

I bought Starfire by Stuart Stockton (Marcher Lord Press) up at Mount Hermon back in March. I’ll admit, for the most part, I wanted to support Jeff Gerke’s efforts to establish his independent press, but I also knew that Stuart Stockton, one of the founders of Speculative Faith, was a good writer. Different, but good.

Different in the way that Richard Adams, author of Watership Down, is different. You see, Stuart envisioned a world “peopled” by dinosaurs. In fact, the world is technologically advanced and the saurians are highly intelligent, so it’s different from Adams in that Stuart was not trying to recreate a world “as we know it” in which dinosaurs roam.

The Story. Rathe, a 5-5 saurian (fifth hatchling of his sire’s fifth brood) wants to rise above his station. When a chance encounter with one of the feared Jerkrenak—wounded and dying—allows him to claim its fang and rescue a hatchling, he is elevated to a position in the warrior class of the Karn Empire.

When he completes his training and earns a spot in a prestigious Klaw, he and the rest of his Spur encounter an insurgent enemy patrol on their first mission—a simple escort assignment to bring back a group of engineers. During the battle, Rathe follows one of those in their party who runs away. The little Spika stumbles on a hidden cavern filled with ancient—and advanced—technology. She triggers some procedure that superimposes technology on her body. As Rathe tries to extricate her, she claims him as her protector.

Upon returning to the others in the Spur, they learn that the little Spika is connected to a rumored super-weapon known as the Starfire. Her goal is to reach her maximum capacity, then launch the Starfire.

However, Rathe encounters another Jerkrenak, members of a group known as Wayfarers who worship a God they call VorTolKo, and a prophet-like person all warning him to destroy the Spika before she can activate Starfire.

With his beloved empire in greater and greater danger from the enemy, and his affection for the little Spika growing, should Rathe help launch Starfire on their enemies or listen to those who warn that the temporary peace Starfire will bring will be followed by greater destruction than can be imagined?

Strengths. The world. First and foremost, Stuart has created a consistent and believable world populated by Saurians, not humans. He gives his characters Saurian mannerisms, creates a hierarchy based on their differing qualities, skillfully deals with problems such as how the smaller Saurians co-exist with the larger, and so on. The details are included as necessary, and therefore never seem overbearing, nor do they bog the story down.

The characters are also wonderfully drawn. Certainly Rathe, who is the point-of-view character, is the one the reader is most attached to. But because of his role as Karey Or’s Protector, it’s easy to feel for her as Rathe does.

Stuart did a good job imbuing his characters with believable motivations. He also sets up internal conflict to go along with the external.

The plot is filled with external conflict that sends the story racing along at a good clip. There is action, intrigue, suspense, danger, surprises, twists, and turns.

The theme is clear but not because the author is trying to drill it into the reader. Rather, as a natural part of who each character is, the story themes surface.

Weakness. The only thing I can think is that perhaps more could be done on the back cover to sell the story to those of us not inclined to pick up a book staring dinosaurs. Again, I am reminded of Watership Down, one of my favorite books. To say it’s a story about rabbits is to do it an incredible injustice, and yet, it is just such a story. How can this be? Only by the skill of the writer who makes rabbits feel believably, humanly sentient. Stuart accomplished the same feat, I think. But I think it takes some selling to convince readers they will care about these Saurians. Maybe I’m wrong.

Recommendation. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves to read. For those who love science fantasy or perhaps even science fiction, this is a must read.

Published in: on December 28, 2010 at 1:28 pm  Comments (6)  
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A couple interesting blog posts today have me thinking about endings. First Stuart Stockton over at Speculative Faith wrote “Can you find victory in defeat?” an article pondering whether or not a story needs to end with either complete triumph or complete failure. Might there not be some sort of mixed bag for our protagonist?

The second post was by Jonathan Rogers (author of The Charlatan’s Boy, the upcoming CSFF Blog Tour feature) about sad books—favorite sad books, no less.

As I am coming down the home stretch in my own writing, and work to pull things together in The Lore of Efrathah, I can’t help but take these thoughts into consideration.

Do we remember, even treasure, happy-ending books more so than sad, or is the reverse true? Perhaps, as Stuart suggests, we prefer endings that are some combination of mission accomplished and mission doomed. After all, isn’t that closer to real life?

But do we want our art to reflect our culture as is or our dreams of what we hope to become?

Perhaps readers are all different. Or readers on some days want a certain ending and on other days a different kind all together.

So I’m wondering. Is there a perfect ending? And if so, is it one that makes you cry, cringe, laugh, grimace, or hug the book to you and sigh.

Does the perfect end make you want to race to the book store, the library, or an on-line store to find another story by the same author? Or does the perfect end make you want to savor the book, turn to the author bio or the acknowledgments, or even the back cover copy—anything just to keep you in the book for a few moments longer.

Does the perfect ending make you want to hear from the main character again, or are you content to remember him/her as is? Does the perfect end haunt your dreams or suggest alternatives to your mind? Or is the perfect end perfect because it’s exactly how you would bring the story to its conclusion?

Is an ending perfect because it surprises? Or because it fulfills expectations?

Does the perfect end wrap up all the loose ends, or are a few danglers better?

I have LOTS of questions, my friends. Tell me what you think about the ending of books. This inquiring mind wants to know. 😉

Fantasy Friday – Speculative Faith

Some of you who have been visiting here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction for a while know about the team blog Speculative Faith—a site set up by Stuart Stockton to discuss speculative fiction from the perspective of our Christian faith.

A number of writers participated. For a time Karen Hancock wrote regularly. Bryan Davis did a short series. We had interviews with editors like Nick Harrison (Harvest House) and with writers like Robert Liparulo. We did reviews and had lengthy discussions about books and movies alike. In short, it was a wonderful success.

But gradually, one writer after the other began to pull back. We were a loose organization and no one filled those gaps or took the lead to insure that each day had content.

I was the last of the regulars, and then my computer crashed. When I was back up and running, I had so many things to catch up on, and Spec Faith was low on the priority list. Then the spam set in. When our core group still wanting to see Spec Faith work took a look at the site, the clean-up alone seemed daunting.

In the end, we agreed to start afresh at WordPress. This time Stephen Burnett took the lead and began transferring posts and designing the new site. We began posting a couple weeks ago, with Stephen doing most of the writing. The next step was to secure regular writers, but we also wanted to include a good selection of guests.

I’m happy to report that the schedule is coming together. I’ll once again be writing on Mondays. Stuart will post on Tuesdays. New to the team is Rachel Starr Thomson, writing on Wednesdays (though she may share the slot—this detail is still being worked out). Then Steven will post on Thursdays. Fridays are the designated Guest Blogger Days.

We have invitations (and some acceptances) out to a number of writers. It should be an exciting lineup. All this to say, you are hereby invited to stop on over at Speculative Faith (affectionately known as Spec Faith 😉 ) and join in the discussions. We also are on Facebook and Twitter, so we’d love to have you follow us or friend us on those sites as well.

Fantasy Friday – News

Much to report. First, Marcher Lord Press, the new POD publishing enterprise undertaken by Jeff Gerke, has released three new books.

Mirtika Schultz posted about them on her blog yesterday. Brandilyn Collins posted about one of the books on Wednesday—Stuart Stockton‘s Starfire (more sci fi than fantasy), this being the book she used in her Kanner Lake series. How fun for the fans of those books to learn that Starfire is now actually available.

For those of you who don’t regularly stop over at Speculative Faith, the team blog discussing speculative fiction, you may have missed my advance review of one of these MLP releases—Jill Williamson’s By Darkness Hid. As a matter of fact, Jill has become a guest blogger slotted, for the time being, to post on Wednesday’s. You can read Jill’s introduction, story of finding speculative fiction, and thoughts on vampires in her initial posts.

In addition, Jill has an article out in the latest Issue of CFBA’s Christian Fiction Magazine Online – “Quest’s, Spells, and Vampires: What’s so cool about fantasy?” Besides pointing out why teens like fantasy, Jill gives a nice list of some of the newer titles by Christians (though some of these might better fit in the Middle Grade category).

And in case you missed it, the Christy Award nominations are out. Several bloggers (Nicole, for example, and Sally Stuart) have posted the complete list. I discussed the books in the speculative genre in a recent Spec Faith post.

Something I neglected to mention here. At Novel Journey, Mike Duran has posted Part Two of a panel discussion on Christian speculative fiction. And yes, I’m one of the panelists. So is Jeff Gerke and Lost Genre Guild founder, Frank Creed. Part I appeared a number of weeks ago.

No new information from D. Barkley Briggs. As you may recall, he announced on his Facebook page that NavPress decided, a month from release date, not to publish the second book in the Karac Tor series. The first in his YA fantasy, The Book of Names, was a CSFF blog tour feature back in January. In a tour that doesn’t shy away from tough criticism, the participants gave this book high marks, so it’s especially sad news. Many of us were looking forward to the second installment of an obviously continuing story by an obviously skilled writer.

And for fans of Karen Hancock, Enclave, her newest book is due to release this July. Evidently it’s closer to science fiction than fantasy, but the publisher’s description suggests a combination similar to her first book, Arena.

On a different topic, the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference is just now getting under way. It seems a little odd to me that I am here and they are there … 😦

Free Books and Such

If you’ve thought The Year the Swallows Came Early by Kathryn Fitzmaurice sounds like the perfect book for your daughter or niece or granddaughter or for a prize for the Sunday school class you teach or for the classroom of your teacher friend, I have good news. You can win a free copy. A number of bloggers in the recent Children’s Book Blog Tour are holding drawings and the links are available at Kidz Book Buzz.

And if you’ve followed the tour, you might consider voting for the Best Blogger of the tour (see the poll in the left sidebar).

Speaking of polls, today is the last day for you to vote for the CSFF February Top Blogger Award because it’s scheduled to close Saturday at 8:00 AM (Pacific time? I’m not sure, so to be safe, don’t wait). The one exception would be another tie as we had last month.

starfireBack to free books, by participating in Stuart Vaughn Stockton’s contest introducing his upcoming release, Starfire, you’ll be eligible to win a set of Brandilyn Collins books, a copy of Stuart’s book, a copy of By Darkness Hid by Jill Williamson (see my review at Speculative Faith), and more.

By the way, Volume 3, Issue 2 of Latest In Spec is now available. If you would rather not wait or would rather receive a copy sent to you via email, subscribe by leaving a comment here or at the LIS site.

Back to contests. I’m thinking we’re overdue for another version of The Fantasy Challenge. I’ll need to contact a few authors and see what prizes might be offered. The challenge is going to center on you telling others about the 2008 or 2009 Christian fantasies you think are worthy of some buzz, so let me know what books you’d like to have on the list.

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